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Next Stop... Confluence?

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

We're #1!  We're #1!  We have the shortest transit stop names of any of the major systems in the US!  Seriously, why aren't we celebrating this?  Ok, not seriously.  But last week Greater Greater Washington contributor Matt Johnson compared station name lengths around the country to make the point that DC's names are too long.  Meanwhile, L stops have the shortest names in the country averaging just 8.3 characters, almost 2 fewer than Philadelphia's second-ranked SEPTA system.  In fact, our margin is so big, I'd argue we have room to grow our station names and actually increase the clarity of our map.

First of all, a partial explanation of why some cities--especially DC--see name inflation: instead of just using the name to explain where the station is, they also use the name to clue riders in to what's there.  They use a combination of landmarks, streets, and neighborhoods, and splice them all together with slashes or hyphens, cartographic clarity be damned.
Meanwhile Chicago (like New York) almost exclusively names stations after a cross street.  While this convention leads to simple, straightforward names, it also leads to a lot of repetition--sometimes even on the same line, like with the two Harlem stops on the Blue Line.

I understand that no Chicagoan is going to confuse the Harlem stop in suburban River Forest with the one in Norwood Park, but isn't that the point?  The L is not just for hearty longtime Chicagoans, but for tourists and new residents as well.  The more we can do to encourage these users to explore the city on the L instead of by car, the better.  In many cases (like the northern Harlem stop in Norwood,) an L stop is the only station in a neighborhood, so why not name it as such?  A little community pride instead of just being one of 4 Pulaski stops seems like a good thing to me.

And this will only get worse as the CTA expands.  Imagine what will happen as the Circle Line, Clinton St. Subway, and true, all-day Bus Rapid Transit starts running on streets like Chicago or Cicero.  You can't have 5 consecutive "Cicero" or "Clinton" stops.  We're going to have to re-draw the map in the coming years anyway, so there's a perfectly good window to minimize the cost--as opposed to changing one or two names each year and having to re-draw the map every time.

So without further ado, a look at the L's duplicate names, and some suggestions for new ones.  I've mostly stuck to neighborhoods or nearby parks and tried to limit the "slash splicing."  The result increases the average name length over the entire system to 8.8--still in first place by a comfortable margin.  Did I forget any? Do you have better ideas? Share 'em in the comments.

New Station Name chart.jpg

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